Paris

1 Apr

People say Paris is romantic, but mostly, I saw dirt. When I walked through the streets, garbage cluttered at my feet. Motorcycles zipped imbetween the standing traffic. Men in suits sit on stairs at noon eating hot crepes and sandwiches. Men and women walk home at 5 p.m. with baguettes sticking out of bags like Parisian flags. A man in a street-front stores tells me I look beautiful in a red dress I try on. He is middle-aged with a sun tan and dark hair, the owner. He is flattering me so that I will buy the dress. I can see him in the mirror behind me, admiring. I buy it. It’s my “red dress from Paris.” I pay too much money for it and wear it that night for dinner, and curl my hair. I sip French onion soup with bread in an old converted house, made into a restaurant. The beams above me are thick and made of wood so old I can imagine it during medieval times. When I return to college, I ride my bicycle down the street to the grocery store where I buy onions, beef bullion, mozzarella cheese and a baguette. It sticks out of my back pack, and I feel very parisian. I cook French onion soup that night, even better than the kind in Paris. The onions swirl in the pan filled with butter, carmelizing into a golden color. An hour later, I dip my spoon into the soup, and I am back in Paris.

I remember getting lost in a neighborhood where every street looked the same as the next. Every crepe-maker looks the same, the same sizzling hot crepes that come with chocolate slathered over them. Every old, gray building has the same windows. I remember the dark subway system that never-ended, that wormed its way through the underground for unfathomable miles before you ever saw light. I remember the hot, May heat, the sun showering down on sweaty crowds in front of Notre Dame. I remember the man outside, covered in pigeons; the women asking for money; the disfigured man. When I entered the church, I felt the cool, dark air. I never wanted to leave. I sat in one of the wooden pews and thought about how hundreds of years before, people had prayed in this same spot, cursing God, thanking God, asking Him to act on their behalf. I wondered what the builders might think if they could see it now, swarming with people. I hated the tourists, yet I was one of them, gobbling sights like a vulture. Little context. Little time to absorb. Dashing in and out of churches, castles, museums and trains so that I could see one more before the day ended. So that I could what, say, “I saw this, and I saw that?” I bought one of those cheap Eiffel Tower figurines. I bought a T-shirt in Munich, Germany. I wore sneakers. I was as bad as everyone else.

I remember leaving the coolness of the church and stepping back into the hot sun. Where people flowed out of the church, a man with no legs sat, begging for money. He is the first face people see after they leave the church. It seemed so horrible, the holiness and the tourism mashed together. It was ugly. He was ugly, hard to look at. I did not give him money. There were so many people there in front of Notre Dame, asking for money, telling anyone who would listen pathetic stories about ill mothers and dying children. “Do you speak English?” they’d ask, imploring. One would never know who told truth and who told lies. I felt terrible that all I wanted to do was stay inside the dim, cold church, away from the poor, diseased people and the hot sun that showed the grime and exposed the worst in us all.

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